Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tolerance

We knew that the predominant religion in Mombassa city was Muslim. The East African coast was settled long ago by Arab slavers and traders and they brought their Islamic beliefs and traditions with them. Swahili is a cross between the tribal Bantu language and Arabic. Mosques are everywhere and 5 times a day you hear the “cry of the muezzin” calling people to pray. “Allllllllaaaaaaaaaahhhhh Aaaqbaaaaaaaaah………..” This can go on for about 15 minutes. Mercifully, they turn the loudspeakers down a few notches for the 5 in the morning warble.

To prepare for the trip, Cindy bought some appropriately long skirts, and made sure the blouses she was bringing were cut very modestly. We were not sure how conservative she should be prepared to dress. What we found was that the area was no where near as conservative as we found on our trip to Iran a few years before. That does not mean that you won’t see men wearing the traditional long white robes, or women wearing the a full Bhurka: the black shapeless dress that covers everything but their eyes.


Some wear “buibuis”: long dark robes that cover everything from the neck down. These can be all black or most frequently have lots of sparkles in patterns sewn into them. The origin of this garment is so that women are very nondescript when they go out in public, but these gowns can be so ornate that you can’t help but look at them as they sparkle in the sun. They will frequently wear headscarves with the later but if the scarves fall off or they have to fuss with them too much, you will often see the scarf just strung around their shoulders. If Cindy was seen without a scarf on her hair in Iran it would have been scandalous and people would just stare until she replaced it.

The Old Town area of the island of Mombassa has the biggest population of Muslim worshipers. Outside of Old Town there is a mix of Hindi, Sikh, every shape and form of Christianity and native tribal worship. This makes for a surprisingly tolerant attitude between the religions here.

Within a stones throw from our house there is a Catholic, a Pentecostal, a Born Again church and a Mosque. Every Sunday you hear the dueling churches blasting away through loudspeakers (they love everything through a big speaker here). It can be a cacophony of noise. The Mosque wailing the call to prayer, the Pentecostals stridently giving testimony, and the Born Agains singing loudly.

Churches are set up any place there is an open space and some electricity to plug and amp into. They can draw anywhere from just a few worshippers to a huge crowd that surrounds a stage at the park downtown. The churches are so close to each other that sometimes I wonder how they hear themselves over the din of the other churches. The Melodies of song compete with each other, one emanating from their own speaker and the other from the loudspeaker just 200 meters away. But it all somehow seems to work harmoniously. If only other places in the world could co-exist with this type or religious tolerance.

For instance, they were putting pavers down on a large stretch of road leading to the Bombolulu Compound. Unfortunately there was a large old tree that needed to be removed to make way for the shiny new road. Initially there was a problem removing it because the women who owned it is going a little wacko. She became so irate with the prospect of its elimination that APDK halted its efforts because they didn’t want to be responsible for her death if she got herself too wound up about it and keeled over. When that was finally resolved (nothing a bit of bribery cant fix) the problem was with the tree itself. It is said that Medicine men leave there belongings and spells in the tree and that it was a part of him. I think it was also a place to cast off the demons he had excised. If you cut down the tree it would be like cutting into the Medicine man and he would soon be coming for you in revenge!! An African religious ceremony had to be performed to exercise the trees demons before it could be cut down. Our very religious Pentecostal maintenance manager James had no problem with the ceremony. He just wanted to make sure it happened so that he could finish his road.